Why Did I Have to Take Algebra?

I struggled with algebra in ninth grade. I did what I could do to pass with the necessary C- and then math was going to be history for me. I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be a preacher, so I concentrated my studies on English, speech, history, and any other courses I thought would put me on a path toward the humanities. Boy, was I wrong.

A couple of years after I finished Bible college (triple major—Bible, preaching, and church growth) I was contemplating my next educational move when my wife suggested I get an MBA. That seemed counterintuitive to what I had planned for my life. But God was speaking to me through Kathy, and I dived into that MBA with calculus, algebra II, finance, economics, accounting, and the requisite business courses. I guess that C- in ninth grade algebra paid off!

Abundantly Beyond All That We Ask

At one point Kathy asked, “If you were to ever do something besides preaching, what would you want to do?” I didn’t skip a beat. I would want to work at CDF. But that was not my plan.

My real desire was to work in local church ministry—particularly preaching. But there wasn’t much of a market for 26-year-old preachers, so I took a hiatus in an MBA-grad management training program at New York Life Insurance Company. I learned a lot about running a business, securities sales, and customer relations, but I was certainly not satisfied there—by all means not seeing God’s direction for my life.

As things came together, some three years after Kathy had posed that original question, on February 20, 1989, I started my first day at CDF. Now 30 years have passed and God has used me in ways I never dreamed.

Back when I had been a youth minister, our church had an assessment done by church growth guru and former president of Pacific Christian College (my alma mater), Dr. Medford Jones. I was all of 21 years of age and had my life planned out. Dr. Jones asked me, “Brad, what do you see yourself doing when you are 35 years old?” Again, I didn’t skip a beat. I’ll be preaching in a church with attendance over 1,000.

That didn’t happen. Yet I have seen the fulfillment of Isaiah 55:8-9: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” I recall the day I turned 35. I thought back to my conversation with Dr. Jones and realized that while I was not preaching to a church of 1,000, that God was using me at CDF to support churches who were ministering to tens of thousands. He had called me to do “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). To Him be the glory!

God has humbled me in my CDF career from time to time as well. Spending 30 years with the same organization does not always call for clear sailing. There were occasions when I thought we had everything aligned for the future and uncertain changes would come—in the financial markets, in church culture, in office politics, in spiritual warfare. I would learn that it was “‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

When I began my career with CDF, the organization made loans to churches primarily in Southern California. Occasionally I would jump on a Southwest Airlines flight and wend my way to exotic places like Oakland or Sacramento. I dreamed of a day when the ministry of CDF could expand to help churches in places beyond California. Since that time I have logged over a million air miles on 1,300+ flights, working with churches in 42 U.S. states.

For Such a Time as This

brad cutout

I have at times been a man possessed. The mission would occasionally overtake my sensibility. As I left for a trip in November, 2011, Kathy prophetically said to me, “You had better slow the pace down or you’re going to hurt yourself.”

It was just two days after she spoke those words that I found myself lying on the side of the road in rural Mississippi.

I had contracted food poisoning at an airport restaurant and in my sickness asked my CDF partner Lawrence Turner pull the car to the side of the road. As I stood to get out of the car I passed out, fell forward, broke my neck, and was paralyzed from the chest down. At the hospital that night the doctor broke the news that I was a quadriplegic. Worse yet, he had to call Kathy, some 2,000 miles away, to break the news to her.

As I lay on the gurney in the ER, staring up at the T-bar ceiling, Kathy asked me over the phone if I was scared. Remarkably, I wasn’t. I was actually a little surprised by that. My father, who was my spiritual mentor, had taught me to call upon Philippians 4 when in times of distress. Verses 6 & 7 read, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I guess years of putting my spiritual muscles to work (like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) had paid off!

I was rushed into surgery the next day and mercifully, by the power of prayer and the miracle of modern medicine, God restored the full use of both limbs and all ten of my fingers. It took three years of physical therapy to bring me as close to normal as I’ll probably ever be. (I still deal with chronic pain.) But it was as if God was telling me that it’s OK to slow down, although he was not finished with me “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Today I do what I was hired to do 30 years ago. I raise investments from Kingdom-minded people in order to make loans to Kingdom-expanding ministries.

I have gone full circle at CDF, having worked in virtually every role on the team—except accounting. I don’t do accounting. My math skills, however, have certainly improved. So kids, when you say to your parents, “Why do I have to take algebra? It will never help me in real life!” Think again. You never know what God has in store.